Avatar and the hope of this world
It appears Avatar has struck a chord with humanity. After six weeks, it remained number one at the box office pulling in more than $550 million in ticket sales. Movie insiders predict Avatar might surpass Titanic’s previous record gross of $601 million in the U.S. alone. Internationally, it has already passed Titanic with sales topping $1.84 billion. Its first place standing from Western Europe to China seems to say it bridges any cultural divide.
What is it about Avatar that captures the world’s attention? Many are going to Avatar for its cutting edge technological advancements. The movie is visually stunning, and tickets for 3D and Imax 3D showings contribute significantly in the movie’s total sales. Avatar takes place on the planet of Pandora, filled with virgin jungles and breathtaking landscapes. Director James Cameron, left no room for grey in this film. Colors pop off the screen. Bright purples and yellows fill the darkest nights. This disdain for the grey is also evident in the story’s moral stance as there are clear cut good guys and bad guys. There are no inward battles about which side to root for, even when the bad side is apparently the United States.
What is most interesting for the church isn’t why the people are going to Avatar but how they are leaving. A recent CNN article noted a many watchers have left the Avatar experience and found the real world bland. It is something they call “Avatar blues.” Audiences are finding that the grey Cameron avoided in the movie fills our world. Colors are muddled and so too is the distinction between good guys and bad guys. The result is a malaise that hits viewers the minute they leave the theater. There has been a rise in forums designed to help moviegoers cope with the harsh reality that they live on Earth and the dreams of Pandora are as unreachable as the stars. People feel a dissatisfaction with the present world. Avatar is evoking new feelings toward the environment. In an interview with Cameron, Oprah gushed about how the movie changed her view of the environment, relating a story about a tree that fell in her yard. Both Oprah and those with “Avatar blues” are experiencing the same thing. People are looking at the world and seeing something inherently wrong. And that might be the result Christians should be looking for, maybe even praying for.
The themes that fill the heads of people as they leave Avatar are themes the Bible addresses and answers. Moviegoers are right when they feel there is something wrong with the state of creation. The Bible told of this problem long before Cameron did. The problems felt by audiences are a part of a world broken since the fall of man. The quiver in the back of our brains that drives the audience to wonder what might be is not from the loss of Pandora, but a reminder of what was lost in Eden.
The response of many after watching Avatar is similar to Oprah’s. Often it is a renewed environmentalism that Cameron says was part of his intended audience reaction (i.e. we don’t have Pandora, because we are not listening to creation.) What Cameron has done is bumbled into a very biblical concept, but he has come out of on the other side with the wrong answer.
When we let creation speak, we’ll find creation doesn’t want you or me. Creation wants Christ. The Bible tells us in Romans 8.19-22 that what the world is waiting for is the same salvation promised in the Gospel—a salvation that comes through Christ alone. You and I have made the problem, not by carbon emissions or a lack of environmental awareness, but by our sin. And because of that, the corruption of creation, so much a part of our dissatisfaction with this world, is not something we can fix. If this world had its hope in us only, it would be most pitiable.
Isaiah paints a picture of peace and unity in creation between man and beast most similar to that found on Avatar’s Pandora. In chapters 11 and 65, Isaiah promises a time when the lion will lie with the calf and when the child will play over the hole of the cobra and without fear. But Isaiah is clear that that time is not now and that time is not brought about by us, but by the Redeemer, the one whose belt is righteousness and faithfulness (Isa. 11.5). It is this Redeemer Who will bring about the new heavens and new earth promised in Isaiah 65.17-25. He alone wields the power to fix the creation that we have broken.
Listen to creation. It knows what it needs. It understands that you and I are part of the problem not the answer. The hope for peace between the child and the cobra comes not from a renewed understanding but rather when the head of the Serpent is crushed and the hope of Eden is restored. If you want to save the environment in the way the environment yearns to be saved, you don’t plant a tree, you preach the Gospel. Avatar paints a wonderful picture of what a world could be, but provides no hope. The Bible brings the promise of what the world will one day be and points us to Christ.
Chris Gore is senior pastor of Beggs, First.